An Extraordinary OrdinationChange is happening in the Lutheran church worldwide, but Conservative Laestadians in Finland have held tight regarding the ordination of women. Now one courageous woman, Mari Leppänen, has challenged the status quo by completing her theological study with ordination as a priest in the Finnish state church. She did so over the objections of the SRK leadership, yet without expressing any other disagreement or conflict with her long-held Conservative Laestadian faith.
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|Mari Leppänen's Ordination Ceremony:|
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If someone acts in another way in the female ordination issue and takes ordination, she might have considered her act, and understands the penalties of disobedience against the word of the Lord. [Alastalo 2012]
“The word of the Lord” that is being invoked so gravely here is mainly
Apostle Paul’s declaration to comply with the proper form of worship: Women are to keep silent in the churches (1 Cor. 14:34-35). This instruction stems from a lecture, or sermon, which gave this charge to the Congregation’s shepherd, or priest, when implementing the framework of the worship process. Apostle Paul argues that he has “the Lord’s command” on this particular directive concerning worship. Unfortunately, we do not feel any closer to understanding the meaning of “the Lord’s command.” The reasoning employed by Apostle Paul is most powerful and authoritative because it is the word of the Lord.” [Nissilä 2012, from §4.7.6]
Even more unfortunate than the admitted lack of understanding is the fact that a woman is essentially being condemned to eternal damnation (§4.2.1) for desiring to do what is permissible, routine, and encouraged for most any man in the SRK. And let’s not sugar-coat what Paul actually says in his “powerful and authoritative” reasoning. Here’s the entire passage:
Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church. [1 Cor 14:34-35]
|The new priest. Photo by a supporter at her|
post-ordination reception. Used with permission.
Nothing to See Here, Move Along...
Conservative Laestadianism has a long history of not appreciating outsiders poking around with concerns about how its members are being treated. In the midst of the 1970s “caretaking” hysteria that even the SRK has now acknowledged involved “spiritual abuse,” a 1974 issue of the SRK’s Päivämies newspaper warned believers about airing or talking about the
faults of the children of God . . . among unbelievers. It is the casting of pearls before swine, belittling of God’s children within earshot of unbelievers. This is in effect a boomerang when consequently the unbelievers in turn berate the children of God. With this trampling, the one who spoke evil is trampled too.” [from §4.10]
|Dr. Johanna Hurtig.|
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They don’t appreciate her attempts to advise them, her open criticism of the organizational culture, and her speaking out publicly about the community. And what she speaks about is “a shameful phenomenon that happens in a community that considers itself representing family values, decency, and respect for the law.” She says, “I defy their great power as I act in the issue without asking their permission or opinion,” having “shown in public many negative things about them: stalling, ignoring, and inconsistent public communications.” They “have to admit their faults,” and thus “a shadow is cast on the inerrant congregation” [§4.10.1]
In March 2009, society poked its nose into the sanctum of the “Kingdom of God” again, this time about contraception. The European Union’s Human Rights Commission
expressed concerns that the movement’s teachings–whether a “ban” is said to be in place or not–effectively infringe on the individual right to freely make a determination about contraception. That right, it said, is a matter of human rights protection. It noted that the term “contraception ban” is not used. But it pointed out that Laestadians have experienced “very real social compulsion” about the issue, and “failure to comply will have serious spiritual and secular consequences.” [§4.7.6]
Now, despite Puolitaival’s wish that the SRK “would have the right to teach and bring out the Word of God, based on religious conviction and declare the kingdom of God and the message of sin and grace, without having to worry about being accused of human rights violations” (from Alastalo 2012), the outside world is raising its eyebrows yet again:
The leader of the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church, Archbishop Kari Mäkinen, is saddened and worried at the attitude taken by the Conservative Laestadian revival movement toward those in the organisation who take a positive attitude toward the ordination of women. Mäkinen says in an e-mail message that he feels that it is a serious matter that a commitment to decisions of the Lutheran Church can lead to a person being silenced, marginalised, or excluded from the movement. . . . [T]he Conservative Laestadian movement decided that the Archbishop’s theological secretary Risto Leppänen would no longer be allowed to teach or speak at Laestadian events. The move was taken because Leppänen takes a positive view of the ordination of women, which [is] accepted doctrine in the Lutheran Church, but opposed by the Laestadians. [Helsingin Sanomat, Secretary Banned from Speaking]
Risto Leppänen is the new priest’s husband. His offense was supporting his wife’s desire to do the same kind of pastoral work that he is doing, without letting her gender block her path.
The issue is not a new one, nor is it going away anytime soon. Mari Leppänen tells the Helsingin Sanomat, “The women theologians [in the 1970s] could not bring their wishes forward, and they were left completely outside the movement’s official debate on the ministry. They were bypassed because they were women, and because of their theological background.” Now, those in the younger generation “have grown both as Laestadians, and as members of this society, and they have seen how women in the church can function as equals among men. Many hope that they could ponder the ministry issue more openly without fear of being judged” (Women’s ordination divides Laestadian movement).
It is still an unrealized hope. Another SRK ordained priest who took the same stand in favor of female ordination, with the same consequence, writes that “the cleansings are continuing.” He hopes that what follows are not the same systematic and brutal excesses that were seen in the 1970s, but he is afraid that is just what is happening now (Alaranta 2012). Another ordained priest whom the SRK has decided to silence at its services is Stiven Naatus, who nonetheless does not believe that the situation will lead to the kind of fragmentation that has occurred at other times in the movement’s history (Ahonen 2012). Perhaps so, if the SRK follows what its Executive Board noted regretfully about the “excesses” of the 1970s: “We should learn from the past” (from §4.10.2).
- Ahonen, Jan. 2012. Erotettu puhuja ei usko uuteen hajaannukseen. Kotimaa24, March 21. kotimaa24.fi/uutiset/kotimaa/7806-erotettu-puhuja-ei-usko-uuteen-hajaannukseen
- Alaranta, Johannes. 2012. Puhdistuksia. Blog posting, March 17. gostaja.blogspot.com/2012/03/puhdistuksia.html.
- Alastalo, Simo. 2012. Puolitaival toivoo oikeutta vakaumukseen ilman ihmisoikeusloukkaussyytöksiä. Kotimaa24, March 28. kotimaa24.fi/uutiset/kotimaa/7864-puolitaival-toivoo-oikeutta-vakaumukseen-ilman-ihmisoikeusloukkaussyytoksia.
- Helsingin Sanomat. Lutheran Archbishop’s secretary banned from speaking at Laestadian meetings. hs.fi.
- Helsingin Sanomat. Women’s ordination divides Laestadian movement. hs.fi.
- Ijäs, Johannes. 2012. Tutkija lestadiolaisesta naispapista: Tämä on historiaa! Kotimaa24, Jan. 5. kotimaa24.fi/uutiset/kotimaa/7090-tutkija-lestadiolaisesta-naispapista-tama-on-historiaa.
- Ijäs, Johannes. 2012. Ensimmäiselle naispapille isot seuraukset vihkimyksestä. Kotimaa24, March 3. kotimaa24.fi/uutiset/kotimaa/7636-ensimmaiselle-naispapille-isot-seuraukset-vihkimyksesta.
- Nissilä, Keijo. 2012. Usko ja elämä: Pappeudesta – yhteisestä pappeudesta erityisesti. Päivämies, No. 2. srk.fi/index.php?p=usko_ja_elama_22012.
- Suominen, Edwin A. 2012. An Examination of the Pearl. Self-Published, ExaminationOfThePearl.org.